The Hound of the Baskervilles

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Themes and Colors
The Power of Reason Theme Icon
Strong Women Theme Icon
Natural vs. Supernatural Theme Icon
Criminal Nature vs. Criminal Nurture Theme Icon
The Superiority of Urban Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Strong Women Theme Icon

Victorian society prescribed a strict role for women as “angels of the home” (indeed, “The Angel in the House” was a popular poem of the Victorian era). To be an angel of the home was to take care of that home, attend to one’s children, ensure the comfort of one’s husband…and little else. Doyle’s female characters fit this mold, but only marginally. When the situation demands it, they find themselves able to break free of this stereotype and take real, effective action, altering both their own (fictive) lives and the plot of the story itself. In this way, Doyle argues that the old Victorian ideal of women as little more than domestic angels is absurdly limiting, as women—though they are empathetic creatures who may truly enjoy caring for their families—are capable of so much more.

There are three women who are essential to the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles: Mrs. Barrymore, Laura Lyons, and Beryl Stapleton. Each of them is played for a fool by the men in their lives, who attempt to control and manipulate them through various means. Selden constantly abuses his sister, Mrs. Barrymore. The convict knows that Mrs. Barrymore has a soft spot for him and has used it to mooch off of her all his life. This reaches its peak when Selden escapes from prison and expects his sister to provide him with food, drink, and clothing while he hides out in the moor. That is, Selden expects his sister to be an “angel of the home” despite the fact that sheltering him is a crime for which she could pay dearly. Jack Stapleton leads on Laura Lyons, using her to lure Sir Charles Baskerville to his death. Lyons is what was known in the Victorian era as a “fallen woman” (the unavoidable association with “fallen angel” was intentional), meaning that she had engaged in prenuptial sexual activity and possibly became pregnant out of wedlock as a result (this is so scandalous that Mortimer says that she was disgraced for having married without her father’s consent “and perhaps one or two other things as well”). Fallen women were essentially untouchable—no respectable man would want to marry one, and no other women would want to associate with one for fear of being stigmatized. Thus, Lyons is forced to eke out a living as a typist, work which barely gets her by. She depends on charity to make ends meet. Stapleton offers to marry Lyons because it would give her a chance at being a proper angel of the home, but his offer is only a rouse to gain emotional control over her. Beryl Stapleton is also abused by Stapleton, who expects her to remain silent about his murderous plans strictly out of her love for him. This is despite the fact that Stapleton attempts to pawn her off as his sister, even allowing Sir Henry Baskerville to court Beryl.

Despite being played as fools, however, each woman finds herself in control of their situation, with great power over the men who appear to control them. Beryl Stapleton and Laura Lyons both know enough about Stapleton’s plans to ensure that the police would arrest him if they were to turn on him. Similarly, Selden is at the mercy of his sister, who has only to turn him in to the authorities. Both Stapleton and Selden expect the women to obey them in the traditional way, however, and never suspect how their reliance on these women has made them weak. That is, they fail to recognize what the women are capable of, thinking of them as little more than housewives. This is a failure, because in all three instances, the women turn on the men in order to better their situation.

By realizing their power and using it, the women enable Holmes to see a case through prosecution that he might not otherwise have been able to, even though he knew the murderer and the murderer’s entire plan. The murder of Sir Charles Baskerville, for instance, could never be proved without the help of Laura Lyons, who alone knew the truth about the covert meeting Selden sought between her and Sir Charles Baskerville. Without this information, Selden is at worst guilty of attempted murder: a far less serious crime. Thus, without the help of women, even the great Sherlock Holmes would not have truly cracked the Baskerville case.

Doyle’s strong female characters notwithstanding, one should not be too quick to read a modern feminist sensibility into Doyle’s work. While Jean Doyle, Arthur Conan Doyle’s daughter, suggested that her father saw women not as men’s equals, but rather as their superiors, Doyle nevertheless took a measured approach to creating equality for women. For instance, he felt that they should be able to divorce more easily but simultaneously felt that giving them the right to vote would create havoc in marriages. In this way, his more moderate personal views seemed to reflect those of his society in general: both seeking to overcome the notion of a severely limited Victorian ideal but neither quite ready for full equality.

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Strong Women Quotes in The Hound of the Baskervilles

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hound of the Baskervilles related to the theme of Strong Women.
Chapter 7 Quotes

Already round this pale-faced, handsome, black-bearded man there was gathering an atmosphere of mystery and of gloom.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8  Quotes

He is much attached to her, no doubt, and would lead a lonely life without her, but it would seem the height of selfishness, if he were to stand in the way of her making so brilliant a marriage.

Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

Some deep sorrow gnaws ever at her heart. Sometimes I wonder if she has a guilty memory which haunts her, and sometimes I suspect Barrymore of being a domestic tyrant. I have always felt there was something singular and questionable in this man's character […].

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, Selden
Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9  Quotes

She kept coming back to it that this was a place of danger, and that she would never be happy until I had left it.

Related Characters: Sir Henry Baskerville (speaker), Dr. John Watson, Beryl Stapleton
Page Number: 330
Explanation and Analysis:

Oh, John, John, have I brought you to this? It is my doing, Sir Henry—all mine. He has done nothing except for my sake, and because I asked him.

Related Characters: Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore (speaker), Sir Henry Baskerville, Selden
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Her father refused to have anything to do with her, because she had married without his consent, and perhaps for one or two other reasons as well.

Related Characters: Dr. James Mortimer (speaker), Dr. John Watson, Laura Lyons
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Mrs. Lyons […] you are taking a very great responsibility and putting yourself in a very false position by not making an absolutely clean breast of all you know. If I have to call in the aid of the police you will find how seriously you are compromised.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Jack Stapleton, Laura Lyons
Page Number: 354
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

The gleam of the match which he struck shone upon his clotted fingers and upon the ghastly pool which widened slowly from the crushed skull of the victim. And it shone upon something else which turned our hearts sick and faint within us—the body of Sir Henry Baskerville!

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, Sir Henry Baskerville, Selden
Page Number: 369
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

I said it in London, Watson, and I say it again now, that never have we helped to hunt down a more dangerous man than he who is lying yonder.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson, Jack Stapleton
Page Number: 396
Explanation and Analysis: